Café Recap: Postpartum Body Image

The Motherhood Café Presents: Postpartum Body Image



Brandy Wilson, PT, DPT – doctor of physical therapy who has been practicing in the Lynchburg area for over 12 years, and focuses on pelvic health.  Mom of 2, 9 and 6.

Trish McCoy Kessler, LPC – owner of Empower Counseling. Has been married for 10 years and has twin step daughters who are 17. Also a contractor with Prosperity Wellness, who treats eating disorders and body image issues in women and young girls. Loves working with women and empowering them to support each other in their journeys.


Erica: This is a sensitive topic that sneaks up on people and how emotional they can feel about these things. Our bodies go through a lot of changes during pregnancy and the postpartum period and so I just want you to feel comfortable with this discussion. At any point, we’d love you to chime in with your thoughts, experiences, or questions for our panelists. This morning is one that we’ve found in the past to be almost healing in its discussion. Sometimes we don’t realize the insecurities and feelings that we have where we are with our bodies and how we’re feeling as we transform from being a woman, to being a mother and a woman. Those changes are really difficult to talk about and to understand.  This isn’t really a conversation that’s going to fix anything, but at the same time sometimes talking about it in a group and getting support and that you’re truly not alone in these feelings and people that you might look at and say, “she’s really got it together” to hear that we’re also got our baggage and insecurities and feelings about how we look, act, and feel about our bodies and our health in general.  It’s helpful to know that we’re all struggling with things and hopefully that will make us that much more supportive of others to know everyone’s got their own stuff.

Erica: Health care disclaimer – local doctors and health care professionals are willing, advice is general . if you’re having a personal issue, please talk to your doctor and discuss your specific health care needs.  Take anything you hear here with a grain of salt and discuss with your personal doctors.


Erica to Audience: We’re going to start with an audience participation questions: How would you describe your body before having children or pregnancy in one word?

Audience Answers: winter ready, strong, nice, energetic, curvaceous, mine, toned, prettier than I realized, curvy, cooperative.


Erica to panel: do you feel that our culture supports women’s body images in general? Do you feel like we have a good idea of what the body is really supposed to look like?

Trish: I don’t think so. I think our culture has high expectations of what we should look like. Social media and advertisements make a false representation of what we should look like as a woman at any age and I think that’s a lot of pressure and it’s very unfair. I don’t think there’s a healthy view out there.

Erica: What about postpartum? Do you think that we have a realistic expectation for how we’re supposed to be when we’re caring for small children?

Trish: No, I don’t think so either. I think there again on TV and social media it’s all about how quick did she get her body back. That’s just unrealistic expectations. I think that the women on TV all have personal chefs and personal trainers. I think that they create a false representation of what a postpartum woman should look like.

Brandy agrees.


Erica to Brandy: What do you think is the most surprising change that women have during postpartum?

Brandy:  I think one of the things that I treat is the Diastasis issues – the abdominal don’t always go back to the way they were. Women will say that they have some ‘extra’ here or I tried a sit-up. One of the common exercises we’re taught is sit-ups and they can actually make Diastasis worse. We’ll try taping or show them manual exercises to strengthen the core. Folks come in to us having experienced when they sneeze or cough they leak or dribble some and they think ‘oh well I’ve had a baby, its normal’. Making sure everything’s working as well as it should. 

Erica to Trish – What do you think some of the most common mental changes are after having a baby or pregnancy?

Trish:  With the women I work with, they’re sometimes very anxious and depressed. They feel out of control. If it’s their first child, it’s the fear of the unknown, fear of body changes, and what to expect. We really work on some of these symptoms, loss of sleep and any distortions they have of what is realistic or what their bodies should be doing. I work with them to have a new normal of what it’s doing while they’re pregnant and after.

Erica: Why do you think that we’re so critical of our bodies? Why do we compare so much? Is it because of what we see all the time? Why do we have these expectations of how we’re supposed to look postpartum?

Trish: I think that the expectations and standards are just higher. I thought about my own mom – she’s not a size 2, but she’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. She always exemplifies self confidence and I never had this expectation, but as I got older and social media makes it harder than what it was years ago.

Erica: I sometimes am shocked at women’s experiences and what others have said to them postpartum. It hurts a little when your child says, “Oh, Mommy! You’re going to have another baby!” when you’re not. That’s a child and it’s innocent, but we’ve heard stories of amazingly insensitive things that have been said. It increases the feeling that you should hide yourself during that time.

Brandy: I myself have been struggling since my daughter. I’m a lot smaller now than I was a few months ago from exercising and being more cautious with food. You may have a long way to go, but it helps to remember where you’ve come from. Positive feedback from others is really helpful.

Erica asks the audience to share their experiences.

Audience:  My husband reminded me that it took 9 months for my body to make these changes, so it’s not going to go back overnight.

Audience: I was shopping for a nursing bra at three stores and the clerks at two stores asked me when I was due. My son was right there with me and he’s 10 months old.


Erica to Audience: Have any of you ever felt “pressured” to get your body looking a certain way, either by your significant other or mother?

Audience: My sister kept asking me when I would be ready to go bridesmaid dress shopping. I said, “I’m ready now.”

Audience: I’ve had friends and family offer to buy me a gym membership to help me get my body back. I know they’re just trying to help but it was annoying.

Audience: I haven’t really had anyone say anything other than encouraging things to me, but I can relate to the social media aspect; especially with people trying to sell products. They show a picture of a women a week post partum and then again at 6 weeks postpartum and it’s a drastic difference. It puts those images in front of us and makes us think that’s what’s normal when it isn’t.

Erica: Images are really powerful. There is a sting that comes when someone is speaking to you directly, but the constant visual of what we’re supposed to look like is the thing that sticks with you. It’s difficult to adjust to your new body – it’s something that many women struggle with, no matter what their body looks like before or after.

There’s a really powerful blog post that’s circulating now that’s about being in the picture with your children. Twenty years from now when your children are looking back at pictures, they’re looking to see you. They want to see what we looked like when we were parenting them as a three-year-old. It’s something that we need to remember – our children love us and they’re going to want to see us again in the future, too.


Erica to Brandy – Can you talk a little more about the things women come to you for help with?

Brandy: Diastasis is where your abdominal muscles stretch during pregnancy and the lining separates. If you’re noticing a hernia in that area, we can do corrective exercises and get those muscles back together and strengthen your core.

Erica: Is that something you notice right away or can it be fixed years after pregnancy?

Brandy: It can be fixed right away. If you’re having issues or a lot of pain right after delivery or if it’s years later, it’s certainly worth coming in and getting back on track.


Erica: Let’s talk about the difference types of incontinence women deal with.  I read an article on the history of Poise pads and it talked about how more women are using them in their thirties and forties. 

Brandy:  There are two types of incontinence: urinary and fecal. With urinary there’s stress incontinence – when you’re sneezing, or lifting. There’s urge incontinence when there’s a very strong urge. It can hit you and there’s no delaying it. It’s the process of standing up to go to the bathroom and everything empties. There’s also mixed incontinence, which is when you experience a mix of both. We look at see what’s your bladder doing with a log of what you’re drinking and how often you’re going, talking a little on the normal bladder – your normal bladder holds about 2 cups of urine and going is about 6-8 times throughout the day and night, and we should be able to sleep all night without it waking us up to empty. You should be going every 2-4 hours. If you notice with your bladder log that you’re going more than normal, those are things where your bladder isn’t working as it should. There’s also fecal incontinence – certainly with ladies who have had a 3rd or 4th degree tear with delivery. It can happen immediately or 10 to 15 years after. It’s a matter of seeing what your muscles are doing, doing behavioral modifications to get you back on track.

Audience question: Is the frequency of urination that you mentioned the same for during pregnancy? I find myself waking several times a night to empty my bladder.

Brandy: That’s what’s normal not during pregnancy. During pregnancy it might be a little more.  The baby pushing on the bladder can increase the sense of urgency. We see ladies during pregnancy who have a lot of pressure - it’s utilizing the taping to give support and help them through their pregnancy.


Erica to Trish: Let’s talk about some of the things you see women coming in for. What are the things you suggest women do? What are some things that are helpful for women to do at home of they’re not ready for therapy?

Trish: Some of the things you can do at home are to realize what your trigger symptoms are, what’s causing your anxiety or depression. There are relaxation techniques that you can do. You can do deep breathing, yoga. If you’re ready or feel like you need to, I work with women with addressing anxiety and identifying depression. Managing coping skills and making sure their support system is in place.

Erica: You’ve mentioned you work with women are experiencing eating disorders. What happens when someone who is dealing with eating disorders gets pregnant and then deals with postpartum. How is it different?

Trish: I think it’s more extreme – you never really get past eating disorders. If you have an eating disorder prior to becoming pregnant, reach out to your physician to help. Nutrition is so important during pregnancy.


Erica on audience question: How can we accept that our breasts really change during pregnancy and nursing? Is there anything you can do besides plastic surgery?

Brandy – Muscle-wise, you can do more of your pec-major and -minor exercises to help posture and give you support and stabilization.

Erica: Do not discount the importance of proper garment fitting. Most women are not wearing the right size bra. If you’ve gone through pregnancy and postpartum and you’re wearing the same bra or if you’re been wearing the same bra for years, it’s probably time to invest. It can make an amazing difference.


Erica: What surprised you about your own feelings postpartum?

Brandy: Prior to my first child, I had my plan. I was going to nurse. I was going to take my lunch break to nurse. I tried and he wouldn’t latch. I went to the lactation consultants. I was in tears, my husband was in tears. I wasn’t worried about my body, but I thought it was going to be a smooth transition.

Erica: For the next part, we had one the moms here take some pictures of some of the other moms. These are some pictures of women here who were willing to be photographed in their postpartum bodies.


Audience Exercise: Make a list of 5 things you like and think are important about yourself. List 10 things that you value about people in your life that you’re closest to.


Erica: Mostly we just want you to look at those and see how many of them are about your physical appearance or are about other things. Whether it be their personality, or strength in character. Really look at what you value.

Trish: Erica, that’s one of the things when I work with women is to change their perceptions and identify all of the positive things. Sometimes we don’t take time for ourselves.


Erica: What do you think women should discuss more openly? How can we be more supportive?

Trish: Stop being so critical of ourselves and other women. Be a great role model for our children to help the next generation coming up to not be as critical.


Erica: Brandy, if women here are feeling like they want to get back in shape, to feel better about themselves. Where do they start?

Brandy: Start off with a walking program. Five minutes here and there add up and can make a difference.


Erica: At the beginning we talked about how we felt about our bodies before having children. Now, describe your body and yourself after you’ve had children. How would you describe yourself?


Audience: tired, phenomenal princesses of power, confident, proud, sensitive, beautiful, stronger.


Erica: To close, I would like each of you to take one last piece of paper and write a compliment to the woman on your right. It doesn’t need to be about her body; could be about her mothering, her smile, something you’ve noticed while we’ve sat here. Let’s not let a single woman sneak out of here unnoticed. You each are all beautiful.


Café Recap: How To Write A Birth Plan

We reference birth plans almost weekly in our small groups, so today we're excited to again devote an entire panel to writing them!

Cafe' Recap: Safety 101

Cafe' Recap: Safety 101

Car seats, Zika virus, swimming pools, medicines, emergency room's recap covers the basics of safety in many areas! Please read so we can help to equip you and you can empower yourself with knowledge. 

Café Recap: 4th Annual Girlfriend's Guide to Birth

Welcome to a new series here on the blog, the Café Recap. After each Café Monday, we will post a summary of the information discussed on the panel. We hope to better include and inform those who are unable to attend the Café, and to serve as a resource for those who were present but can't quite remember all the details (hello, cute and distracting little babies, we're looking at you!) Please note that the article below is not professional advice. The Motherhood Collective does not claim responsibility or ownership of any of the ideas found below. Please consult with your Care Provider regarding any changes to lifestyle or habits. At The Motherhood Collective we encourage you to take a salad bar approach regarding this and all material. Take what you like. Leave the rest.

Its that time of year again! The 4th Annual Girlfriends' Guide to Birth, will have you laughing until there are tears in your eyes. Sometimes birth books just don't cover everything. If you are pregnant, come and join us for a candid morning filled with stories about birth from mamas you know. If you're not pregnant, join us and share something you wish someone would have told you. Whatever season you are in, the Annual Girlfriends Guide is sure to make you smile.

Our wonderful panelists: Lora Cartrett, Amanda Boywer, Erin Baird, Alisha Meador and our moderator, Lauren Barnes.

We see the movies; gushes of water, rushing to the hospital, followed by screams of pain and then a baby bursting forth. So what’s it really.... like? Lora's was just like the movies. Some didn't break until pushing.

Erin has had every behavior during labor- singing, screaming, bossing others around. Amanda, who is normally a quiet person, was a screamer and just didn't care who could hear or what they thought. With her second she nearly gave birth in the car, and the experience was so quick she found her self still in shock afterwords.

Husbands, wonderful as they are, are often less helpful than we'd hope during labor. Lora's big, burly husband turned into a crying mess, while Alisha's husband (a therapist) was almost too calm. Many husbands offer "advice" that is more or less helpful. A husband telling you how to push, or reminding you that women have been doing this for thousands of years, is not what a laboring woman wants to hear. Some husbands surprise us by being amazingly helpful and involved; moaning along with their wives, massaging, and offering support when needed.

Pushing positions: Stirrups are the "traditional" pushing position. For some this is helpful, when grabbing your legs is an impossible acrobatic feat. Some find that squatting or hand and knees is a more comfortable position for others.

Did you try to speed up your labor? Alisha found the shower to be soothing, as well as chanting and a glass of wine to keep her comfortable. Lora's blood pressure kept her in the bed for her first delivery, but with her second she moved and swayed to stay calm. A "peanut" ball is a comfort to some mothers who need to be in bed due to an epidural or other factors.

Pain coping mechanisms employed by our panelists include screaming into a blanket, negotiating with yourself internally, counting through contractions, chanting and listening to the sound of your own voice, and listening to a friend talk aimlessly. Amanda says that being mentally prepared and calm before getting to the hospital helps her.

What does pushing feel like? Our panelists said, "It's kind of like the biggest poop of your life." "You can't push with your legs, you have to push like a poop." "Something's happening, I'm not doing this. It's like the best/worst feeling ever. A painful feel good." "Pushing naturally felt good...with an epidural it's like psychic pushing." "Like reverse vomiting." "Something terrible is happening." Others don't feel the need to push, and feel that it is a much less involuntary process.

Poop during labor is something that many women are terrified about, but by show of hands actually pooping during labor is not especially traumatic. Some are not even aware of the fact, since there is so much going on during labor. Nurses are often excited by a labor poop, as it is generally caused by the head coming through the canal and is a sign of progress.

Did you know where to push? Or did you need direction from your labor team?Alisha and Amanda felt that they knew how to push when they were ready. Trying to push too early, though, does not feel natural. The placenta delivery also requires pushing sometimes. Others hardly notice the placenta delivery, while some find it to be painful to their already-sore bodies.

Our panelists would like to remind soon-to-be new mothers that your first labor does not have to be indicative of your second labor. If things didn't go as planned the first time, the next time it may! Use your previous knowledge and use each birth as a learning experience. It doesn't matter how you became a mom, even though sometimes external pressures make us feel inadequate. Motherhood is more than your birthing experience, and going from pregnancy to motherhood is an amazing accomplishment. Prepare as much as you can, but remember that when it comes down to it birth is out of your control.

We are so thankful to our great panelists and our audience for their participation. This was such a fun cafe, full of hilarious labor jokes and stories!

Instagram Round-Up | October

Much fun was had this October as we discussed traditions both here on the blog and at our regular get togethers! Between crafting, costumes, and sharing traditions and recipes, we had a busy month here at the Motherhood Collective!

October Instagram Round-Up

The 2nd Monday of the month we gathered together and listened to one mom's experience with Baby Led Weaning. Recipes were shared and questions were asked. Did you miss it? Check out the following resources our speaker suggested:

The 4th Monday of the month we gathered together to make pomanders and share our family traditions, round-table style! In case you couldn't be there to hear our many mamas share their family traditions, here are a few blog posts we posted this month about holiday traditions:

As always, our leadership team gathered together a handful of times to brainstorm ideas, check items off their to-do lists, and encourage one another in this balancing act of motherhood.

We are so thankful for all the sweet mamas who share here on the blog, join us at our activities, and volunteer to help make it all happen! We love this community so very much.

Here's to a great November!